COLUMN SIX, FEBRUARY 1, 1996
(Copyright © 1996 The Blacklisted Journalist)
LEFT-WING JESUS FREAK?
SCOTT AND NEDRA ROSS
My old friend Scott Ross, currently one of the Christian Broadcasting Network's most effective TV talk show hosts, is as close to a left-wing Jesus freak as I think anybody can hope to find on religious right-winger Pat Robertson's Family Channel. The outspoken Scott says he has faced many confrontations with and complaints from Christian hard-liners since he first started playing rock and praising Jesus on the radio more than 25 years ago. And also since he debuted on the tube and began assaulting his fundamentalist televiewers with shows about witchcraft, satanism, motorcycle gangs and sex. Still, he says, his boss, Christian Coalition president Robertson, keeps backing him to the hilt.
"I was in trouble practically from the first day I got on the air on CBN," Scott told me. "A matter of days or weeks after being on the air, I was talking about guns. It probably had to do with Martin Luther King's assassination. I was on WXRI in Portsmouth, Pat Robertson's radio station, when Martin Luther King was shot and I said 'We need to pray for this man!' And I immediately got phone calls from people that I put on the air who said, 'You pray for that nigger? It's good he's dead!' I mean this is supposedly the Christian world. This is Bible Belt. 'Don't you pray for that nigger! He's dead and it's good he is!' Not everybody said this, but, well, I got calls saying, 'It's time somebody shot him! He's a communist!'
"God! I went nuts! I went sideways! I said, 'What in the world?' Then, a few days later, I started talking about guns and saying, 'Man there's a whole thing with guns in this country! This is a violent nation!' Now, this was 1967 when I started talking against guns. I said, 'We're violent people! We got a gun in our hands and we're going out to others and killing them.' And then I started getting calls: 'What would you do if somebody broke into your home? What would you do? Kill him! That's what you ought to do!' And I said I wouldn't own a gun. It's not that I'm afraid of a gun. I'm afraid of myself. I know myself too well. I know what a temper I have. And I wouldn't shoot anybody, anyway. How could I shoot him in the name of Jesus and tell him God loves him? 'God loves you!' and pow! Blow their brains out. That's nuts! That's crazy! That's inconsistent. That philosophy is screwed up.
"So, I was on the air and these people were threatening me because I was talking about not owning a gun and having some sort of gun control laws on our books in this country. This was in 1967. I went into the bathroom and I said, 'God, I'm gonna go back on drugs if these people represent you!' It's hard to deal with an entrenched religious system.
"Pat has given me enormous latitude, and so I have enormous respect for Pat. When I started doing my 'Straight Talk' TV show just a few years ago, I brought his 'enemies' into the studios, the extreme liberal left. I brought them all into the studio and Pat didn't say one word to me except, 'You have a responsibility to hold them to the truth.' Pat has allowed me to do that all the years I've been here. People wanted me thrown out on the street.
"Back in the '60s, I brought in a bunch of rock and rollers, vagrants who'd been in jail the night before. They were a rock and roll band. I brought them into the studio and said, 'Let's listen to a song that represents who they are.' I think they did a Dylan song. The people at the Christian Broadcasting Network were so angry, they walked out the studio. I had brought in 'these dirty heathen' off the street. One of the CBN women pointed out a girl in the group and said, 'She doesn't have any underwear on! She's sitting on that brand, new couch and God's money built this place!' I don't know how the woman knew the girl didn't have any underwear on, but
Pat just looked at them and said, 'The day this building becomes more important than those people, I will personally burn this building to the ground'
there you are! I came out of the studio because my TV crew had walked out on me. I'm standing out in the middle of the hallway of this brand, new building, which had been dedicated just a few weeks before. All these people are yelling and screaming and walking up and down the halls and waving their arms. and Pat comes down the stairs and says, 'What's going on here?' And they point at me and say, 'He brought in these rock and rollers and that girl doesn't have any underwear and they're filthy people and this is God's building dedicated to God's purposes.' And Pat just looked at all these people and said, 'The day this building becomes more important than those people, I will personally burn this building to the ground.'
"And he let me do that at his expense. He'd only been going for five or six years at this time and people threatened to withdraw their financial support of his work, and he needed the money!"
Scott says his hour-long "Straight Talk" TV show is dedicated to presenting "both sides of things." He also told me that in Virginia's recent senatorial election, he voted against Oliver North, the fundamentalists' arch-conservative darling, by not voting at all. Dedicated rock fan that Scott continues to be, he still stays in touch with rock and roll celebrities with whom he enjoyed drinking and drugging back in the '60s. He's even married to one of that era's celebrated pop singers, beautiful Nedra Talley, once a member of a chart-topping black female recording group known as the Ronettes. If you ever chanced to listen to so-called Top 40 radio back then, you must have heard Be My Baby.
Nedra, with a family lineage which leaves Puerto Rican, Indian and African-American blood flowing through her veins, is blessed with a skin pigmentation which some Virginians historically have denigrated as "high-yellow."
"People were going to withdraw their financial support of Pat Robertson's work because Nedra and I were a mixed couple in an interracial marriage," Scott said. "And Pat said, 'Scott Ross works for me and I love Scott. And l love Nedra, I care for these people, so I'm standing with them and you can keep your money!' What am I supposed to say? Later on, down the road, I can say Pat does things politically that I may not agree with, but when we didn't have furniture in our house, he got a pick-up truck and drove it over to our house with this desk in the back"---and Scott pointed to the desk he was sitting at---"along with some chairs and a dining room table, because we were eating on the floor. And Pat and Dede, his wife, they had less than we had. We love Pat and Dede. The things that are really important, we agree on, and that's the love of God and Jesus! We believe that and Pat lives it, he doesn't just talk it. So, like in any family, we can fight over minor issues but on the important issues, we see things the same way.
"Pat has stood with me over the years and he has given me that kind of loyalty. He has taken a big risk to let me do what I've done. A big risk. It doesn't always get him approval but he doesn't look for people's approval all the time. There's no way Nedra and I can be disloyal to the kind of loyalty Pat Robertson has shown us. Why should we?"
He was telling me all this in his book-lined office in his home in suburban Chesapeake, only a few minutes away from Robertson's CBN headquarters, located in America's Christian fundamentalist capital of Virginia Beach. Listening in addition to me were a very rapt Nedra and my equally attentive cassette recorder. I had come to interview Scott for some chapters I was writing about the time I took him up to meet the Beatles and Bob Dylan at Manhattan's Warwick Hotel. I plan to publish those chapters in this column soon. But first, I want to introduce Scott as one of characters in my galactic collection of characters.
I've heard it hinted that Scott has gotten where he is because that's where his opportunism has led him. Scott can talk circles around anybody. In that way, he's a lot like his mentor, Pat Robertson, whom he once described from afar as "this Hollywood-handsome square in his neatly pressed suit" and another time as "an ultra-conservative southern super-dude." Nevertheless, the two of them obviously hit it off when they met at a Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship meeting in Baltimore and Scott was soon broadcasting on WXRI, the CBN radio station in Portsmouth, Va. The two of them are ultra-slick rappers who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.
When we sat down to our "interview," Scott had forgotten entirely the story I was going to write. But Nedra remembered.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "The time you threw up!"
It had occurred to me that Scott might be embarrassed by this story. Did I mean it to punish a hip swinger like him for having deserted to Bibleland, of all places, betraying everything the '60s stood for? Still, Scott and Nedra welcomed me with the same graciousness and warmth we had shared years ago. To a lot of the people
'Greed is the Devil himself and we can never beat the Devil, but we've got to keep fighting him because we've got to keep him at bay'
I used to know, I've become bad news, an apparition from a past they're trying to forget. With Scott, Nedra and their multiracial four children and three grandchildren, I spent a delightful weekend.
I believe in peace, harmony, brotherhood, oneness. I look for what unites us, not what divides us. I believe America is a place where everybody can believe what he wants to believe without fear of anyone imposing a set of beliefs on him. Yes, greed will always triumph. Greed is the Devil himself and we can never beat the Devil, but we've got to keep fighting him because we've got to keep him at bay. Yes, greed always triumphs, but in the end, man's greed will use up all the oxygen and humans will turn out to have been just as dumb as dinosaurs.
That's why I seek a commonalty with Scott, a bridge to unify me with him and Nedra, a cause that overrides or at least is equal to their loyalty to an ideology I cannot possibly get behind. And I find that commonalty in our multiracialism. I myself have a grandson who is not only half-Jewish, one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter WASP, but who is also a direct descendant of one of America's founding fathers, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, a man whose signature adorns the Constitution of the United States. And my grandson has cousins who are half black, one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter WASP and they're also direct descendants of Founding father Dickinson. Scott's family, my grandson and my grandson's cousins represent my kind of America!
I first met Scott when we were hanging out in hotel rooms with the Rolling Stones back in the '60s. That was when Scott was a DJ for a small Long Island rock station and he soon became one of my potsmoking pals, joining me in helping promote a high school rock band in partnership with Rock and Roll Hall-of-Fame songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Scott still speaks with the motormouth persuasiveness necessary for an effective radio rock jock.
Slender, with longish hair and always a hint of surprise on a face pretty enough to make some women wish they had his looks, Scott in those days kept being mistaken by fans as a Rolling Stone himself. Undeniably sexy, Scott couldn't help but be attractive to women and he has confessed in print many details of how his insatiable appetite for sex and drugs ran amok back in the '60s. But waswn't that when drugs and promiscuity were at the heart of the message of Beat poets and rock lyricists alike?
One of the most determined men I've ever known, Scott today makes a big show of insisting that he hasn't touched another woman in the 28 years since he and Nedra made their commitments to each other "before Christ." Scott likes to tell about the time self-proclaimed champion womanizer Bill Wyman, the former Rolling Stone bass player, challenged Scott to look him in the eye while swearing to his marital fidelity. Scott says an astounded Wyman had to agree that he was telling the truth.
Describing himself as part of what he calls "the spiritual family of God," Scott considers himself in direct contact with Jesus through an "inspirational" evangelism based on what Scott calls "Baptism in the Holy Spirit." He says this baptism occurs from within when the supplicant enters a state of grace occasioned by a flash of such direct contact, prompting joy and jubilation expressed in an outburst of babble known as "speaking in tongues." Scott himself claims to have undergone this experience and to have expressed his joy and jubilation with such an outburst of babble. It's all mumbo jumbo to a cynical old agnostic like me, but I still consider Scott and Nedra my multiracial brother and sister. After all, Scott is a valuable brother to have. He has powerful connections. Anything he needs, all he has to do is pray for it and he gets it. ##
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